10 mobile lending UX best practices

illustration with UX looking icons

The easier and more intuitive your mobile lending platform is to use, the more high-quality loan applications you’ll receive.

By Elizabeth Judd

If an outstanding user experience for mobile lending platforms were not already a holy grail for community bankers, it’s certainly become one as they consider how to do business in a world gripped by COVID-19.

Samir Agarwal, vice president and small bank segment leader at Wolters Kluwer Compliance Solutions in New York City, notes that, this spring, many community bankers who had resisted offering online loan applications were eager to catch up. “Now that so many banks have closed down their bank lobbies, the environment to help people get funding or loans,” he says, “the conversation has totally changed.”

For community bankers operating within a mobile loan environment, a positive user experience, or UX, has not only translated into greater numbers of applications, but also into applications that are more accurate and complete. Janet Bossi, senior vice president and residential lending manager for $10.5 billion-asset OceanFirst Bank in Toms River, N.J., says fewer “errors are made when an applicant inputs [their] own personal information.”

Below, experts share their best practices for crafting a stellar UX for mobile lending.

1. Think “intuitiveness” and “ease of use”

“Really good design comes from a place of empathy,” says Steve Hoke, Finastra’s vice president of product management, consumer and small medium enterprises (SME) lending, who is based in Madison, Wis.

Hoke says there are many ways to minimize the number of form fields required for a transaction. Providing the information necessary to apply for a car loan might take only five minutes when users supply the VIN for the car and a few other key pieces of information, he adds. Meanwhile, even the mortgage application process can be streamlined by prefilling income, asset and liabilities from credit reports and third-party sources.

Bossi has found that “when a client is ready to make an application, they expect to complete the process in a digital environment in one sitting, with as few follow-up tasks as possible.” She continues: “Offering the client the ability to connect with employers and other financial institutions to electronically obtain application documentation is convenient and one less step that the borrower must take for every connection made online.”

2. Leave breadcrumbs for the user

It’s critical to explaining the scope of the loan process and then indicate an applicant’s progress. “I like to say, ‘Whenever possible, provide technical web breadcrumbs for the workflow process that indicate status and progress,’” Agarwal says, adding that users appreciate when questions flow along an intuitive path, with similar types of questions grouped together.

Bossi points out that most applicants using OceanFirst Bank’s online portal are working with an OceanFirst loan officer who has already outlined the application process and listed document requirements. Even so, when a prospective applicant goes directly to the portal, they will find a list of items required to complete an application.

3. Assign codes rather than insisting on a formal login

Many users prefer not to create a user ID and password before initiating a mobile loan application, Agarwal says. A better option, he suggests, is assigning each applicant a six-digit code similar to the combination of numbers and letters airlines use for reservations through secure transmission until the application transitions to a formal origination. A community bank may then follow up with an email to confirm the code and allow users to return to their applications at a later date.

4. Use smart technology

Software can be designed to tailor future questions based on customer answers. For instance, Bossi notes, if an applicant says they’re purchasing property alone, then any further questions about co-borrowers should be excluded.

Agarwal explains that smartphone tools, such as a camera, can make applying for a loan quicker and easier. Users can snap a picture of a pay stub and submit information from that photo electronically, for example.

5. Watch trendsetters

Chris Cox, chief operating officer of Apiture in Wilmington, N.C., says bestselling tax preparation apps exemplify how to walk consumers through thorny financial forms. “Community banks can use successful digital businesses as a model for what is possible in banking,” he adds.

Cox recommends learning from online pioneers outside financial services. As an example, he cites Uber, which provides a model of transparency by illustrating how long customers will wait by showing the cars they ordered progressing along a map.

“In a multistep process like loan approval, you need to make the status of the process obvious to the customer every step of the way,” Cox says. “Knowing what’s going on makes the customer feel more comfortable.”

6. Remember that looks count

“Community bankers have decided to think deeply about the digital journey that their customers are going through and are really trying to make sure there’s a cohesive digital experience,” Hoke says. He praises community banks that have presented themselves consistently across all platforms in terms of logos, colors and other branding elements.

7. Be respectful of time

Agarwal says online applicants expect to spend less than 15 minutes initiating a loan. While a loan need not be granted in that amount of time, he adds, that’s how long it should take a user to get the process rolling.

8. Test, test, test

One aspect of providing an outstanding UX is never “assuming you know best,” Hoke says. Too often, he adds, “things that seem obvious or intuitive may not be. You have to go out and test and put [models] in front of users. You have to be willing to be wrong and willing to adapt.”

Because community bank staff are bank customers, too, they can offer firsthand insights on what works—and what doesn’t work—when using a mobile platform, Hoke says.

9. Go through the trash

Knowing at precisely which point a user fails to complete an application can be helpful. If users are falling away when they reach the employment screen, Hoke says, consider asking fewer in-depth questions at that stage.

Agarwal recommends that community bankers personally follow up with customers who may abandon applications. “Abandoned apps don’t necessarily have to become lost opportunities,” he says, adding that they can provide market insights and good customer service experiences.

10. Provide call-in numbers

Hoke says many institutions publish phone numbers to help applicants who get stumped by some aspect of the application. That’s why providing the capability to save a partially completed application is critical. When a user calls the bank, they’ll want the loan officer to pick up the application where it was left off, rather than starting fresh.

While offering help can be a way of keeping users engaged, it’s—fortunately—not something most bank customers will need to staff extensively. A lack of traffic for these phone numbers, Hoke says, is testament to the positive UX that many community banks deliver.

typing on a keyboard

Is your mobile lending platform accessible?

Truly outstanding web design means creating platforms that are accessible for people with disabilities.

Because most community bankers turn to vendors for help designing their mobile loan applications, it’s important to ask the right questions about ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance, says Minh N. Vu, ADA Title III team leader and partner at Seyfarth Shaw in Washington, D.C. Simply requiring that a platform be ADA compliant leaves far too much wiggle room, she says. She adds that what’s better is specifying that the platform comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.1 Level AA, the prevailing standard.

WCAG requires all disabilities be considered, from hearing impairments (for example, using closed captioning for videos) to color blindness (for example, ensuring that color is not the sole way users are notified about problematic responses).

Visually impaired people often rely on screen readers that read aloud invisible alternative text that lies behind links appearing on their screens. For example, a button with an image that reads “Apply Now” isn’t helpful if that text isn’t carried over to the image’s alternative text, often referred to as alt tags.

“It sounds really basic,” Vu says, “but if you don’t code ‘apply now button’ in the alternative text, all the screen reader will announce is that there’s an image.”

Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Maryland.